Over the last two days, Verizon has come under fire over a new service the carrier is offering to third party data collectors. In short, Verizon is scooping up generic information on their customers such as which devices they own, what webpages they browse, which social media accounts they activate, GPS locations, the customer’s age, and even more intimate details such as if the customer owns a pet. Big Red takes this data and then sells it, without a name tied to the bundle, but with a label like, “sports enthusiast, frequent diner or pet owner.”
Some view this program, called Precision Market Insights, as being on the verge of illegal and violating the Wiretap Act. Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was interviewed briefly by CNET, who submitted the following statement on Verizon’s PMI program:
I don’t see any substantive difference between collecting content from one person and turning it over to someone, and collecting it from multiple people, aggregating that information and then turning the aggregated data over to someone else… In the end, there is still a capturing of content from the user at some point — and that’s what the potential (Wiretap Act) problem is.
Verizon, who ensures that the customer’s privacy is their top priority, issued the following statement to place customer’s worries to rest:
Verizon is committed to customer privacy and takes the issue seriously. The Precision program complies with the law and protects the privacy of our customers. The reports available through the program will not disclose the content of specific customer communications because each report will contain aggregate data from a large number of customers to protect privacy. Customers who do not want their data used as part of the program can opt-out at any time.
By allowing people to voluntarily opt-out, Verizon may have found somewhat of a loophole in terms of the legality of the service. But then again, as Declan pointed out over at CNET, what business does Verizon have selling our information when they’re already getting $80+ a month from us for using their service. As this story progresses, we’ll keep you updated.
To opt yourself out of this data collection program, you can do so here.